Photograph by Lena Ostroy-Harp
The Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) School Board and Berkeley High School (BHS) students discussed the implementation and importance of Measure Y1 on March 28, the Berkeley charter amendment that allows eligible city residents ages sixteen and seventeen to vote for BUSD Board of Directors.
This amendment was passed on November 8, 2016, with over seventy percent of Berkeley voters supporting it and no assembled oppositional group.
Several BHS students involved in Vote16, a national campaign advocating for the lowering of the voting age on the local level, presented to the school board. Their presentation aimed to maintain their working relationship with the school board, and continue bridging the gap of communication between students and board members.
The students also updated them on Berkeley Vote16’s work in the past few months, and asked them to write to California’s secretary of state to demonstrate their support and speed up the implementation of Measure Y1.
“Right now we are in the tricky and meticulous process of implementing the law. “Bureaucracy is a slow moving machine, and the work doesn’t stop once the law is passed,” said Simelia Rogers, a BIHS senior and Vote16 advocate who spoke at the meeting.
After the presentation, board members discussed the initiative and asked questions of the presenters. Discussion topics included plans for maintaining the movement’s momentum and recruiting eligible Berkeley teenagers attending high schools other than BHS. Board members clarified the requests of Vote16 and expressed support for the students’ efforts.
BIHS junior Cole Huster has supported Berkeley Vote16 since its inception in 2015. He said that 16 and 17-year-olds should have the right to vote for school board members, whose actions directly impact students.
“All of us are influenced by legislation such as school security, sexual harassment and assault policy, and social media and hate speech protocol, just to name a few. We deserve a say in these decisions,” Huster said. He added that when 16 and 17-year-olds cannot vote, they may be ignored in campaigns and policy decisions. Vote16 is supported by members of the California Legislature and the Berkeley School Board.
Adena Ishii is the president of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany, Emeryville (LWVBAE), a nonprofit organization that encourages civic engagement. Ishii said LWVBAE supports Vote16 because the initiative increases participation in United States democracy. “To protect voting rights for 16 and 17-year-olds, people have to stay engaged. It’s essential that this group stays informed and actually votes,” Ishii said.
Vote16 is currently working to increase the accessibility of ballot boxes and voting booths come November. In collaboration with LWVBAE, the student advocates have a three-part plan for engaging potential voters: registration, education, and voter turnout. According to Huster, the Vote16 team registered roughly one person per minute for over an hour after the March 14 walk out at BHS. In all, the group has registered hundreds of students.
Nathan Dahl, lead advisor for the Berkeley Chapter of California’s Youth and Government Program and a Measure Y1 proponent, said he hopes at least half of eligible 16 and 17-year-olds vote in the upcoming school board election.
“This first year will be critical,” Dahl said. “If enough 16 and 17-year-olds come out to vote to make a significant impact on the outcomes, the youth voice could have dramatic implications for school board elections for years to come.”
There are three open school board seats in the upcoming election on November 6, 2018. One concern that Vote16 has faced is that young people are not mature enough to vote. In response, Rogers said that by sixteen, students have enough experience in the school system to speak on its downfalls and high points, and that there are many articulate and informed BHS students.
Huster explained that the campaign to ensure 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds can vote in Berkeley is not over, saying, “There is still work to be done to ensure not only that young people have the ability to vote but that they are educated and ready to vote.”